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Everybody knows the rules of polite conversation: Don’t talk religion. Don’t talk politics. And whatever you do, don’t talk money.
I’m Lara Pingue, an editor at The Globe and I’m hereby breaking that last rule. To put it plainly, I’m a little obsessed with money. I grew up watching Robin Leach swoon over the wealthy in Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. I was one of five children in a single-income household, and those rich snobs on TV might as well have been aliens. My family had all the boring stuff: housing, warm clothes, three meals a day. But that feeling that we could be completely undone by a lost job never went away.
At 23, I landed my first full-time job and immediately out-earned my own father. (That’s to say that he, with only a high-school education, made a salary even smaller than my own.) I don’t know if he knew or cared, and if he did, he certainly kept it to himself. There was no shame in making money; I had officially launched.
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And so began my complicated relationship with money. I wanted and needed it to keep my life in Toronto (and to pay back nearly $40,000 in student loans), but I resented my need for it, too. It kept me in jobs I had outgrown, it stopped me from living alone sooner. But in time, it quietly became my badge of honour. When I paid off my student loans a decade ahead of schedule, I taped the congratulatory bank statement to my fridge.
Making it On My Own became my personal brand, and that meant one thing: never, ever asking for money. When I got married, merging finances wasn’t even an option. I made my money, he made his, and I never had to admit to anyone that I spent $96 at the drugstore when all I needed was Kleenex. Making my own money meant never answering to anyone.
Author Jessica Knoll set the internet ablaze when she declared in The New York Times that she wants to be rich. “I want to make the kind of money that allows me to jet to Mexico on a Tuesday…If anyone calls that obnoxious, I want to do what men do, and shrug,” she writes.
This kind of blunt talk about money, this ballsy ambition to be wildly, filthy rich comes at a time when it’s still out of reach for most women. Even in 2019, a woman’s best shot at reaching 1 per cent status is by marrying a rich man, according to the American Sociological Review. (Note to the men reading this: I have not met a single woman who would marry for money over love.)
My own motivation for earning a comfortable salary is much more basic than Knoll’s. I want the buffer zone my parents never had. I have earned my way into a world where a broken furnace won’t send me reeling, where a mindless purchase won’t break me (see: dropping $96 at the drugstore). These small acts remind me of how far I’ve come and, yes, how lucky I’ve been. But they also lay bare an uncomfortable truth: I don’t know who I am if I can’t make money.
I wince a little when my father-in-law hands my beaming son a crisp $100 bill for losing a tooth. I worry about the day this no longer delights him. How do you teach a seven year old that money isn’t everything when you’ve lived your life thinking exactly that?
I know I have some uncomfortable realities to face as my kids get older and the things they want become more extravagant. Our neighbour is preparing to send his daughter to university, somewhere European and expensive. “We have to re-think our retirement plan!” he told us, laughing.
My blue-collar DNA was offended to its very core. “I hope you know we’re never paying $50,000 a year to put our kids through school,” I later told my husband. He chuckled, but I wasn’t kidding. I want to give my kids the things I never had – but I also want them to have the things I did have. That includes a little struggle.
I understand now that I don’t love money as much as I fear it. Yes, I have built myself a financial firewall, but I’m never without the thought that it could all go away – and then what?
I want to soften the hard edge of that reality for my kids, but not smooth it out entirely. It’s my job to teach them that dining out on a whim and not having to worry about the gas bill are small luxuries that not everyone can afford. But more importantly, I want them to know the satisfaction of making it on their own, with their own hard work and, yes, with their own money. This will be my gift to them. I choose to see it not as a bitter taste of my own early adulthood, but as the ultimate act of tough love, maybe even as a chance to truly understand their mother.
They say it’s love that makes the world go ‘round, and maybe that’s true. But I’ll be damned if money isn’t a close second.
What else we’re thinking about:
I can’t resist an unfiltered look at people’s finances. That’s why Refinery29’s Money Diaries is a guilty pleasure. The series tracks an anonymous woman’s spending for a full week, exposing all the financial blunders, expenses both crucial and ridiculous, and ultimately paints a vivid picture of what we value.
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